Tommy Castro's advice to all wanna-be "guitar heroes" would probably sound like this: If you all would just shut the hell up for a second, maybe you'd be in a band somewhere instead of in your basement, blindfolded, trying to play the E-sharp-minor-augmented-ionian scale or whatever.
To talk about the veteran blues guitarist without placing him in the context of his band would be pointless. To wit, Castro and his three mates -- saxophonist Keith Crossan, bass player Randy McDonald and drummer Billy Lee Lewis -- will be in Houston this week to, above all else, rock as a unit. "On our worst nights," Castro has said, "the most common compliment we get is what a tight band we are. Our music is not about any one person's incredible performance." Castro and company, known as the Tommy Castro Band, live by this idea and have forged a sound that can be produced only by four guys who play roughly 300 dates a year.
As one of a few players deemed a torchbearer for the future of the blues, Castro understands the guitar as a rhythmic tool to a degree most of his contemporaries do not. Usually he, McDonald and Lewis create a bedrock of sound over which Castro's smooth, whiskey-tinged voice can flow. When he does step out to lead, he doesn't stray far from the roots. Castro solos lightly, as if strolling down the street on a perfect Saturday afternoon. Never afraid to stop and enjoy the scenery, Castro takes his time getting to the point, circling around it a few times before walking up to it in big, leisurely steps. Tommy Castro doesn't so much solo as take his clean, old-school tone out for a walk.
With a front man who always sounds cool and assured and with a band that never misses a beat, the Tommy Castro Band is about as reliable as musicians can get. Unfortunately, this can be a problem. What is regularly lacking at Castro's shows is danger, a sense that greatness or disaster is just a note away. For every ten outstanding shows Buddy Guy or Albert King played, there were always one or two stinkers. Both knew the blues should have no safety net. At times Castro's band sounds like it's better suited for a bar mitzvah than an icehouse.
But these vets have built a mighty reputation touring, and they just need the right circumstances to push themselves into the stratosphere. Throw energy at these guys, and they'll know what to do with it. -- Justin Wolske
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The Tommy Castro Band performs Friday, January 7, at Billy Blues, 6025 Richmond. Tickets are $10. Show starts at 10 p.m. For more information, call (713)266-9294. Davee Bryan will open.